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Mass for archdiocese, visit to prison top pope's Philadelphia itinerary

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PHILADELPHIA - The first stop for Pope Francis when he visits Philadelphia the morning of Sept. 26 will be the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul to celebrate a special Mass for the people of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The previously unannounced Mass is part of the pope's itinerary for his Philadelphia visit announced by the Vatican June 30.

The announcement also included news of the pope's planned visit with prison inmates of Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in northeast Philadelphia.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput greeted news of the papal schedule "with great joy and I'm certain that countless individuals in our city, our commonwealth, and our country share that emotion with me."

"As the birthplace of religious freedom, Philadelphia is a city rich in history and diversity. This itinerary recognizes the importance of those qualities and the pope's desire to witness them firsthand," said Philadelphia's archbishop.

Another stop on the pope's visit to the city includes an afternoon address Sept. 26 at Independence Hall, birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The pope is expected to speak about religious freedom and immigration, among other possible topics.

The visit with incarcerated men and women at the sprawling 25-acre Curran-Fromhold facility, the largest in the Philadelphia prison system with 30,000 inmates, underscores Pope Francis' commitment to extend mercy to the marginalized, including the poor, the sick and, in this case, the imprisoned.

The pope has declared a Year of Mercy in the Catholic Church to begin Dec. 8. It will emphasize the church's healing ministry to all people "as a field hospital after battle," as the pope has said.

Both the Mass at the cathedral, the prison visit and the address at Independence Hall join other papal events already announced for Philadelphia, including his attendance at an evening Festival of Families cultural celebration Sept. 26 and the public Mass he will celebrate on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway the afternoon of Sept. 27. That evening there will be a celebration of the World Meeting of Families for supporters and volunteers at Philadelphia International Airport, followed by an official papal departure ceremony there.

"Pope Francis' plans for his visit to Philadelphia seamlessly integrate powerful public moments with more intimate gatherings that are deeply grace filled," Archbishop Chaput said. "It is an itinerary that says, 'I walk with you - and so does the Lord.' It says, 'Embrace your faith and embrace one another as children of God.' It says, 'God forgives.' And it says 'Come together in celebration.'"

The archbishop called Pope Francis' visit "a true gift for all regardless of faith tradition."

The World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, being held Sept. 22-25 in advance of the pope's visit, is expected to draw some 15,000 participants from 150 countries. Pope Francis has called the congress "the central reason for his visit to the United States," Archbishop Chaput said.

The archbishop predicted "the many pilgrims present in September will experience a moment unlike any in the history of our city. The presence of the Holy Father will be electric and charismatic. It has the power to transform all of us in deeply positive ways. It will be our shared responsibility to take that gift and use all that we learn from it to build a better church and a stronger society."

Gambino is director and general manager of CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

Link to Pope Francis' Cuba and U.S. itinerary.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015